The lone voice of candour.

Jack of all trades? Maybe, rather master of none! By the skin of my teeth, I managed to escape the firm grip of the propounders of the Communicative Language Teaching (CTM) method way back in 1977.

And having been at the “receiving end” of various foreign language-teaching theories applied, I have developed a keen interest in the practical application of theoretical models, their practicality and their measurable results. In all modesty, I consider myself to be a semi-expert on the subject of language acquisition.

About This Blog

All references made and examples given in any of my postings deal only with “spoken or written messages”, exchanged between at least two persons – a “sender” and a “receiver”– irrespective of a person’s, race, nationality, gender or social and educational background.
If I sound too blunt in places, please bear in mind that taking a point to extremes brings home an argument more effectively in many cases, especially when dealing with taboo subjects.

The Communicative Teaching Method or CTM has been my pet peeve for many years now, although more recently, I have concentrated on Basic Global English or BGE and Globish. The most salient characteristic of CTM and its offsprings are that in many cases “guesstimating” becomes the major skill needed to communicate after a fashion. An over-simplified English, worsened by unnatural non-native constructs, fancy new words which no speaker of Standard English can understand, and a novel approach to pronunciation which is likely to be confusing to many speakers of Standard English, may not only be an obstacle to communicating effectively in written English but also in speech. Often, one is forced to ask the speaker what he actually means if one is interested in what is being said.

However, this kills a conversation and in many cases, some people just nod their approval or say “yes” in the right places while trying to guess what is being said. In doing so, one reduces a meaningful conversation to a social function where the gap between intended and interpreted meaning becomes unimportant. More often than not, this sort of English is too broad and ambiguous, leaves too much room for guessing, and asks for a high degree of patience and goodwill. In the same manner, it may put a high strain on the listener, is marked by frequent backtracking and asking for additional information in many cases. I dare say that the faster the new variants of English or “Local Englishes” develop, the more acute this problem will become.

In his book „Semantics”, Geoffrey Leech explains that the human mind always tries to read some sense into what it does not understand, even into absurd sentences (p.8, Geoffrey Leech, Pelican pocket book, 1974). This explains why people at either end of any given communication exchange (speaker and listener) may believe that they know the meaning of their exchange of symbols (a string of words), or, to put it in another way, they may think they know the meaning of what is being said, even if it is impossible to make sense of it at all. The CTM (“Communicative Teaching Method”) and Basic Global English as well as Globish profit from this finding. I dare even make the claim that it is its entire foundation and no one seems to bother or care. I am quoting the original paragraph from the above-mentioned book:

“It seems to be an incontrovertible principle of semantics that the human mind abhors a vacuum of sense; so a speaker of English faced with absurd sentences will strain his interpretative faculty to the utmost to read them meaningfully”.
(„Semantics”, p.8)

To further illustrate my point, I add the following compelling definition of the word “meaning” from C.K. Ogden’s and I.A. Richards` book “The Meaning of Meaning”, pp. 186-7, published in 1923. (Chosen from as many as 22 definitions on “meaning”):

[“Meaning” means] that to which the interpreter of a symbol
a) refers
b) believes himself to be referring
c) believes the user to be referring

In the meantime, I will pursue my analysis of various teaching and self-teaching methods, be it only on the level of an interest lay person. The most interesting questions are: Which teaching methods would sustain rigorous scientific analysis? And what are the reasons for the obvious absence of any long-term and objective comparative studies of any methods used in language teaching and language acquisition? And more importantly, what other methods have not been tried yet?


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